Madison Movie Talk

Once in a while, my friend Jan and I host a call-in radio program about film on a Madison, Wisc., public radio station. I dig it, and not just because I love the opportunity to sound off like a would-be expert. These lefty listeners for the most part still fight the good fight, effortlessly achieving heights of indignance that I haven’t been able to scale since I was an undergraduate. It’s good to be reminded of what I’ve become inured to — namely that plastic surgery and at least a mild eating disorder are practically casting requirements for both men and women; that women get the short end of the cinematic stick; that most people still view films as a little desert at the end of a legitimate workday rather than ye olde bread and butter. But one film that I found myself vehemently disagreeeing with the old-school progressives about was the overdetermined, overwritten, overwhelmingly underwhelming Crash, which I still contend is a pat ensemble film about LA racial dynamics that could have been written for Lifetime TV in 1991.

When Jan and I trashed it on the show, the lines lit up with a score of indignant callers chomping at the bit to set us straight. One guy said: “You just don’t understand race relations in America.” A comment that raised not only my hackles but a set of genuinely unfacetious questions: Does he? Do you? Just who does understand race relations in America right now? (Besides Cornel West, anyway?) And does the film really understand race, or even purport to?

Although I find Haggis’ movie so clichéd as to be possibly harmful, does the fact that these folks found it useful mean, as Jan tactfully suggested while I jumped all over the poor caller, that it can’t be quite so easily dismissed? It’s my final question here, I guess. None of these callers could specify what they found so helpful or useful about Crash. Rather, they just averred it was a “worthy topic.” And just because a film takes on an admittedly worthy topic, does it thus become a worthy film?

You know my answer is no. Otherwise, I’d be singing poor John Sayles’ recent movies’ praises.

On another note, callers liked that damned penguins movie, too. And more than one listener confessed s/he wouldn’t be seeing Murderball because of its title. Too bad, because that really is a worthy film — albeit one with an admittedly futile title. I’ll say this for the Maddy listeners: They do value their foreign film. Let’s hear it for the Midwestern independent theaters, no matter how poorly air-conditioned they apparently are.

Anne Heche Is a Convincing Alien (or: What I Learned My Summer Vacation)

I apologize for my inexcusably long break. All I can say is that I am one of those irresponsible New Yorkers who not only has a car, but loves her car. It’s a pain in the ass to park, to pay for, and to protect, but — aaaaah. Come summer and its clammy, dirty hot-towel slap, ain’t nothing better than climbing into my Hyundai Sadie’s four walls and speeding right up the BQE ramp and out, out, out of NYC environs.

I’ve been to: the Catskills; Onset Bay, Massachusetts; the tony Hamptoni; Long Beach, LI; and, of course, la Coney Island. And I am here to report that even better auto-entertainment (if you catch my meaning) than mypod is la book on tape. The cheesier the better, it seems. I tried listening to Middlemarch and Crime and Punishment and, though I admired those books much when I read them a decade ago, lordy, were they lousy in traffic. Nay, it’s been less lofty fare: domestic fiction from Alice McDermott; you-go-girl faction from Terry McMillan (NYTimes phrasing, not my own); Frank Abagnale’s swinging-con memoir Catch Me If You Can, Aretha Franklin’s autoautoautobiography (compelling on oh-so-many levels!); and, by far the best, Call Me Crazy by Anne Heche, read by the authoress herself in her patented Stonewall-era-gay-male-meets-Ethel Merman voice. I will say this for Heche: She obviously wrote it herself. She grounds out her church-ladylikeness with down-and-dirty swearing. “I’d rather be crazy than fucking God!” she exclaims after describing waking up with, oh, stigmata in her palms. And then there’s the poetry she occasionally uses to jazz up her prose. Couplets rhyming “herpes-scaby” with “My sister Abby.” Or, “I was mad/a loon/a crazy cartoon.” Plus the exact pronunciation of her alien-identity Celestia’s special language.


All right, I’ve broken my August-posting cherry, so more later today or tomorrow.

What Made Me Grin This Temperate Morning

The heavily tattooed guy with the powerful, and I mean POWERFUL, body odor waiting for the drugstore to open at 9 am. The doors swung open, I grabbed my gallons of water (they were having a sale, when can I say?) and brotherman jostled ahead of me to buy three tubes of KY jelly and an economy-sized bottle of Astroglide. The clerk and I could barely look at each other without smirking. Sexy sex sex.

My next-door neighbor, an Italian woman in her sixties, planting five pots of gorgeous purple morning glories in her tiny front yard. She was wearing a dress festooned with purple morning glories and, when she was done planting, swept her share of the sidewalk with a gorgeous purple broom. I think I love her.

You Got Served playing HBO on a seemingly nonstop reel. It’s the perfect cable movie — a dull teen drama punctuated by awesome awesome awesome dance sequences. Click on, click off. Imitate the moves in the sanctity of your living room.

My apartment boasting not one but two air conditioners. Read it and weep. Or just read my electricity bill and weep.

Ah, summer soothes this savage beast.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy